Reaching for the Stars
Champion Petfoods’ DogStar Kitchen takes pet food manufacturing to another level with its state-of-the-art design.
Champion Petfoods is synonymous with premium recipes made from fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. So, it’s no surprise that the company’s success is, in part, attributable to DogStar Kitchen—the manufacturing facility Champion opened in 2016. Designed with the principles of community and sustainability, DogStar Kitchen takes an innovative approach to crafting pet food.
Based in Auburn, Ky., DogStar was built to blend in with the local landscape. Rather than looking like an industrial complex, the facility’s design was inspired by a Kentucky horse farm.
“We wanted to fit in with the tremendous food culture and quality farming that is so readily present throughout the state,” says Jeff Johnston, SVP, research, innovation and product development for Champion.
Champion, which was founded in Canada in 1975, purchased the piece of land from a farmer who was known to be resistant to selling. He ultimately agreed to the deal because he knew it would bring jobs to the community. DogStar now employs 150 people and purchases ingredients from local suppliers. Being in a region with easy access to fresh meats, fruit and vegetables was part of why Champion chose the Auburn location.
“We could have brought our Canadian suppliers and formulas down here, but we wanted to stay true to the idea of regional sourcing,” says Keith Arnold, freeze-dry business manager at DogStar.
However, that doesn’t mean that Champion’s forgotten its Canadian roots. The name “DogStar” refers to the star Sirius, and Champion’s Canadian manufacturing facility is called NorthStar.
Champion completed the construction of DogStar in one year, though it usually takes double the amount of time to finish a facility of this size and complexity—DogStar measures in at 375,000 sq. ft. Champion accomplished this feat by designing and building at the same time. However, that doesn’t mean the company cut corners.
“We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build the most sanitary, most state-of-the-art pet food facilities in the world,” Johnston says. “In fact, our operations surpass most human food production facilities.”
DogStar was SQF certified in its first year, passing three levels of inspection. It also won the Global Food Safety Institute Award in 2016. Champion employs food scientists, nutritionists and an in-house veterinarian to research and test the quality and safety of its foods.
The facility is responsible solely for the manufacturing of Champion’s ACANA and ORIJEN food and treats—no other brands or private label offerings. Formulated to be biologically appropriate for dogs and cats, ACANA and ORIJEN products are made with high inclusions of fresh meat and require a complex manufacturing process.
“We chose to design a facility that could properly handle these high volumes of fresh ingredients with proper temperature control, and with proprietary equipment capable of producing our unique formulations,” Johnston says.
DogStar’s extrusion systems are specifically designed for the processing of high-meat recipes. The facility features three extruders—with the third one being added about 18 months ago—and typically runs two lines at a time, three to four days a week. The facility also uses meat processing equipment that provides fresh ingredients to the extruders at the right temperature.
The facility houses other custom-made features, such as a huge cooler to keep the ingredients as fresh as possible. DogStar’s use of controlled zoning for air, product and traffic flow helps ensure that the products are produced in a clean environment at all times.
“We designed the kitchen to be the most food-safe pet food production facility possible, taking painstaking amounts of time to review everything from construction materials to fastening hardware to all ledges at all heights in the building,” Johnston says.
All of the leadership located at DogStar was hired during the facility’s construction so they could contribute ideas to its setup.
One of the most important aspects of DogStar’s design is the importance it places on sustainability, which is emphasized throughout the facility.
“We strive to be an environmentally-responsible company that is focused on making the world’s best pet food in the world’s best kitchens,” says Johnston. “We tried to design a facility that is efficient with water usage and energy usage.”
DogStar has taken many tactics in order to be an eco-friendly facility. It has waste water treatment on its premises, its protein storage bins are cleaned and reused instead of disposed and its manufacturing process uses the entire fish for seafood recipes. Wild boar foods are made with wild-caught boars from Texas, where they are considered nuisance animals. If an imperfect product does result during manufacturing, it is reused or sent to feed factories.
In the years since its opening, DogStar has seen a few changes and the facility has the potential for 40-50 percent growth in size. In addition to installing a new extruder, it has added two more freeze dry chambers and has expanded its data management systems. Despite these changes, DogStar’s mission and that of the company has remained the same—providing high-quality, biologically appropriate food made from fresh ingredients.
In designing and building DogStar, Champion was ultimately inspired by this mission as well as the responsibility the company holds to its customers and their pets.
After all, as Arnold says, “the word ‘trusted’ was the basis for everything.” PB